I have been an Acquisitions Incorporated fan since the beginning. I was into Penny Arcade and PVP for about 5 years, 4th Edition D&D got announced, and then they bring on these guys to play D&D and then they release the recording. And it was funny! And interesting! They did three podcasts before moving to PAX live shows with the occasional podcast or youtube series. It used to be just PAX West. Now they do one every PAX. Surreal to think how far we’ve come. Now the internet is lousy with streamed D&D. Not in terms of quality but that it is everywhere. And thank God it’s no longer 4-5 cishet white guys sitting around the table as it was back in the starting days.
And now the C-Team series has been on youtube for a while and we have in our hands a D&D book that says Acquisitions Incorporated on the cover.
My intention for this post is to read through the book and give my thoughts. Starting with the intro and the Company Roles. Hopefully getting through the rest later. I wanted you to know where I’m coming from first. I’m a superfan, I get the inside jokes, and I know who all these goddamn characters are.
If you know nothing else about Acquisitions Incorporated I will try to summarize it for you. Start with Omin Dran, Cleric, who follows a deity of trade and fortune. His deity commands him to seek fortune and adventure as a sacred rite. Naturally, it follows that he would hire adventurers to go out and adventure and recover treasure for him. It’s inherently a 4th Wall Breaking Concept: A powerful adventurer hires a bunch of lower level characters to go adventure for him and he takes a cut of the money. It’s actually pretty close to my concept of Tando Tossbottle.
The book starts with a kind in-character history from Jerry Holkins’s cleric PC, Omin Dran, about Acquisitions Incorporated from inception to the present. The Present seems to go up to the 2019 PAX Shows with WWE Superstar Xavier Woods’s character being thanked in the credits. This history and the entire book so far is missing Binwin Bronzebottom, Scott Kurtz from PVP’s character, and Aeofel, Wil Wheaton’s character. They are in the credits at the start of the book but otherwise these characters are scrubbed from the narrative. It’s almost in character for Omin to have this partner, Binwin, that he pretends never existed. Both of these guys no longer do Acquisitions Incorporated. Wil Wheaton stated publicly on his blog that he refuses to work with Scott Kurtz ever again. Scott Kurtz talked a bit about why he left on a podcast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn3S_fAlCxE&list=WL&index=18&t=2s) but it coincided with WOTC’s press release from a few years ago that they were going to put money into more streamed D&D games. I’m bastardizing Kurtz’s reasons but Acq Inc was becoming more a Penny-Arcade thing and he wasn’t really interested in doing an elaborate performative show he had no creative control over. My point is, to me, an Acq Inc fan, the removal of Binwin and Aeofel from the narrative is weird.
After the history we get into items with mechanics behind them. This starts with an overview of your Franchise Headquarters. This has some crunch to it, your HQ costs this much to maintain, your HQ has this many people as staff. This is mostly flavor though. It’s not really that important or a big deal that your Level 4 Franchise HQ has an escape pod. It’s good flavor and it can inspire you to write a thematic setting.
One thing I noted as I read this section is that there are repeated suggestions to use rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. In the section on hirelings this book refers you to the relevant section in chapter 4 of the DMG three times in two pages. The next section suggests you read chapter 5 and the section after that suggests you read chapter 6. This reminded me of a moment from Season 5 of The Wire where a journalist tells a story, “Mr. Mayor my desk wants to know” and the guy keeps going back to the mayor with questions “from his desk” and the mayor puts his ear to his own literal desk and says, “My desk is telling your desk to go fuck itself.” I feel like this book could’ve saved some words with one sidebar or one referral to the DMG. Every paragraph having a referral feels excessive.
This section on your HQ and your hirelings brings to mind Running The Tavern from Dragon Heist. This was one of my least favorite parts of Dragon Heist. I share some of the blame for this. My character, which seemed like a great idea at the time, was a sage explorer who wanted to gather knowledge about Waterdeep for their God, Savras. So when tasked with running a For-Profit Tavern I…didn’t really want to? This was my mistake. I should have played a character with a reason to buy-in to what the adventure was about. My error was in assuming that the First 5E Adventure about Waterdeep would be more about Waterdeep or that Waterdeep would be more interesting. We also played Dragon Heist under the AL Rules For Running A Business and no one wanted to engage with those rules. Rolling on a table to find out how our business did felt uninspired. And the adventure isn’t actually about running a tavern so there’s no penalty to ignore it. So not enough benefit to commit, nothing happens if you skip that content. However, if building that business had been part of the story there would be a reason to get interested. With Acq Inc, you have a cost to maintain your business and staff and untold riches if you succeed.
After the Franchise HQ info we get into the Company Positions. This is the real mechanical draw. If you want to be a documancer like Walnut Dankgrass this is your section. A sidebar suggests if you want to use these rules you should also use the “low magic campaign” rules again from the DMG. I look askance at this. I know they’re suggesting it because these Acq Inc rules, these roles, are purely extra features and power to add to your PC. A Rogue Assassin has fewer options on their character sheet than a Rogue Assassin Occultant. This is in the same way that in 4th Edition D&D, Dark Sun introduced the concept of Themes. And Themes were again, purely extra power to add on to your character. I loved Themes though and they were so popular they eventually became the Background mechanic in 5E. But to put a campaign in Low Magic Mode because of these mechanics seems excessive. For one thing, they are not that powerful. For another thing, all of them are very magical in nature. It doesn’t really make sense to say, “we’re making this a low magic campaign because we’re using the Acq Inc Rules,” and then include something like the Hordesperson who gets a Bag of Holding literally connected to the Acq Inc Head Office or the Documancy Satchel which does the same thing. In addition, the adventure that makes up more than half this book is certainly not a low magic adventure.
One thing we need to mention is the concept of ranks. This is part of the C-Team show. When the C-Team starts their adventure, they are all Rank 1 at their positions. The Franchise HQ is a Rank 1 HQ. All of these powers are tied to your Rank. Acq Inc Powers start at Rank 1 and go up to Rank 4. Rank increases with CHARACTER LEVEL and is separated by Tier Of Play. Rank 1 is Level 1, Rank 2 is Level 5, Rank 3 is Level 11, Rank 4 is Level 17. I am not crazy about breaking things up this way. Most of my skepticism stems from my opinion that a level 11+ character would not be worried about Acquisitions Incorporated matters. After watching these games for 10 years I have the perception that Acq Inc is a low level thing. Level 11+ characters got shit to do. They have worlds to save.
In the C-Team, the characters are rank 1-2 and they’re level 10 now. So they are practicing what they’ve preached to us in terms of how fast your Acq Inc Rank increases. At the same time, I don’t really like having this linked to your character level. In the C-Team, where these jobs are used, the DM seems to have an elaborate subsystem in terms of tracking rank. During one game he mentions that the Decisionist got one point every time they called for a vote on something.
I should also point out that these abilities are not very powerful. The Rank 4 powers especially seem weak when you consider they are meant to be for Level 17+ characters. But they are fun so let’s go through them. Hopefully a Documancer will tell me to delete this if it is a violation of Acquisitions Incorporated copyright.
Each job gives a few benefits at each new rank. The first role, the Cartographer, gains their proficiency bonus to checks involving maps and trailblazing. These might normally be a Wisdom (Survival) check or even straight intelligence. Also at rank 1 they gain proficiency with cartographer’s tools and land or water vehicles. Lastly, at rank 1 the cartographer gains the ability to requisition transport, either a wagon, horses, or passage on a ship.
At Rank 2 the Cartographer gains a magic spyglass. This is a weird one. If there is something blocking your view, you look through the spyglass, you make a DC 15 Wisdom check (with Proficiency because it’s with your tools), you can now map the natural terrain within 3 miles of that thing. So is the idea that if nothing was blocking your path, if it was completely open terrain, a person can normally map three miles of a point? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make the check and then you magically gain a map of the terrain within three miles?
Also at Rank 2 the Cartographer gains the ability we see Rosie Beestinger use most often on the C-Team. This is a 45 minute ritual that lets you teleport to a location within one day’s travel that you’ve been to before.
At Rank 3 you gain a magic map case, or rather, your Cartographer map case becomes magical. You can look in your case, make a check, and then find a map in your case to reveal a shortcut that cuts your travel time by half. If you succeed by 5 or more you gain advantage on an ability check within an hour. So hopefully your travel time is going to include some tactical elements. Also, once a week, you can make a check to find a map in your case relevant to your mission or inspiring a new one. This map case and the spyglass are both kind of asking big questions of the DM. To use this ability is to ask your DM to be prepared to adjudicate miles and miles of terrain. Theoretically, if you are DMing a game with the Acq Inc rules, and you know you have a cartographer this is something you can prepare for.
At Rank 4 you gain two more benefits. First, a magic book that grants you advantage on intelligence and wisdom checks related to geographical locations. Second, your 45 minute ritual can teleport you to a location within 3 days travel and you can also teleport your franchise HQ is mobile and 2000 pounds of goods. Two things jump out at me here. Number one, 2000 lbs of gear, is that just whatever’s in your HQ other than your stuff? I guess the idea is that your tavern full of stools and ale is never a mobile HQ. Number 2, this is a teleport ritual at Level 17. A Wizard gains 7th level spells at Level 13. My point here is that at most D&D tables, three day’s travel is a problem that’s solved by this point. If you happen to be at a table with zero full spellcasters maybe this feels strong but probably not.
The Decisionist is very different from the Cartographer. While the Cartographer gets a lot of toys to use which really depend on the DM’s responsiveness to make useful the Decisionist’s mechanics manipulate the party. At Rank 1 you add your proficiency to certain charisma checks which would likely overlap with Persuasion. You also, by mechanic, get two votes whenever your party needs to take a vote. I can’t remember a time when our Tomb of Annihilation party, Curse of Strahd party, Dragon Heist, or Mad Mage party ever decided something based on a vote. Most times, we agree by acclimation. Everyone kind of goes along with one decision. If the party had a mechanic for formal votes maybe you take more votes.
At Rank 2, the Decisionist can proxy for absent players/characters and call for recounts if they themselves are absent. You also get a magic coin and can decide what side it lands on. This is a bonus action which is kind of weird. Why? Just make it a free action. A key point here is that only Decisionists are supposed to know that Decisionists can decide which side the coin lands on. The other players at the table might catch onto this pretty quick when they read their Acquisitions Incorporated book.
At Rank 3, the Decisionist coin functions as a kind of Augury spell. The DM has to adjudicate on the fly which of four results on a random table apply to the coin flip. Most importantly you also gain a kind of Inspiration mechanic. Once per day, when you vote and make a Persuasion check your party gains advantage to the next check within an hour. That’s fairly powerful and the first mechanic that can be directly combat related.
Rank 4. Boy howdy I’m hating these rank 4 abilities. Once a week, the Decisionist can grant themselves three votes instead of the normal two votes. Which…okay so the rest of the characters might still choose to go their own way. Also this might piss off the players at the table. The Decisionist really assumes that voting is a part of the social contract at your table. Your Level 17 character also gains the ability to cast Charm Person once per day at Save DC 15 with their “voting kit.” Which, I don’t know how big it is or what. You just present this big huge box and charm someone, well probably not since 15 is kind of low at Level 17. You can also put tools in there….umm…okay?
Ahh Documancer. When I think of the Acquisitions Incorporated Jobs, Documancer is the first that comes to mind thanks to the AMAZING portrayal given on the C-Team by their Documancer Druid, Walnut Dankgrass. At Rank 1, you get your Proficiency to document-related checks. You gain advantage on Intelligence checks to decipher codes which is going to be big in a certain type of campaign. I’m imagining right now a game that uses both the Guild Rules from Ravnica, the Dragonmark rules from Eberron, and these Acq Inc rules to make the ultimate puzzle solver.
At Rank 2, Documancers get their magic satchel. You can send and receive messages with Head Office through the satchel. There is some overlap here with the Hordesperson and Loremonger which I will get to. You can also cast the Augury spell to decipher the will of Head Office once a week.
At Rank 3, your Documancy Satchel now becomes a Bag of Holding and once per day you can produce a scroll of Comprehend Languages. It would be more useful to just cast the spell but it’s a documancy satchel. The Documancer Arcane Casters will be fine with this. The Martial and Divine Documancers will begin looking around for someone to cast for them. I would say as a DM, just let your Documancer use the scroll. This is a level 11 class feature, Comprehend Languages is a 1st level spell. You also gain proficiency with the Forgery Kit, which you probably already had if you wanted to be a Documancer in the first place and there is always a kit inside your Satchel.
At Rank 4, you can make an Arcana check to gain a spell scroll of up to 3rd Level from your Satchel. If you Succeed, this works once a week. If you fail, you can try once per day. Your Satchel can also hold up to 30 scrolls in a special compartment. Drawing the Scroll from your Special Pouch is a Bonus Action…was it not a free action before? Casting it is still an action right? Depending on the scroll I assume.
The Hordesperson might be the most useful low level job. At Rank 1 you can use Proficiency in price negotiation, appraisal, and resource analysis. “Is this Gold or Fool’s Gold?” You gain Jeweler’s Tools. You can also have anything in the PHB’s “Mounts and Vehicles” section or “Trade Goods” section delivered to your Franchise HQ with the chance for a discount. This one is weird, if you fail this is a daily, but if you use this feature twice you cannot use it again until your Franchise levels up. I choose to interpret this as The Discount works up to two times, not the Acq Inc Prime feature.
At Rank 2, a Hordesperson gains the Living Loot Satchel aka the Hordesperson’s Bag from the C-Team. A guaranteed Bag of Holding at Level 5 is not to be scorned. The bag can also be used to move valuables between itself and the vaults of Head Office. In addition, you can now live a Wealthy lifestyle. This is flavored as “All Hordespeople Skim From The Profits.”
At Rank 3, your Satchel is now also a Leomund’s Secret Chest as the spell. I don’t really understand how this is different from it being a Bag of Holding. You can also make a Sleight of Hand check to pull out virtually any piece of adventuring gear up to five times per day.
At Rank 4, your Satchel is now a Portable Hole. I think the difference between this, the Chest, and Bag of Holding is a matter of how large a thing you can get into the bag. You can also pull anything out of the bag now up to 250 GP of value.
I don’t know how many adventuring parties really struggle with not having access to low cost gear. When I did Tomb of Annihilation I brought a lot of gear and in a high level adventure access to skills and spells matters way more than a Climber’s Kit. The Hordesperson also uses Dexterity to pull the right thing out of their bag. Most of these roles have one stat that is most important to any skill checks relevant to the role.
The Loremonger is the first of the four jobs not held by the members of the C-Team. You add your proficiency to checks to assess records and decipher codes. You gain one proficiency in artisan tools, navigator tools, or vehicles of some kind.
At rank 1 The Loremonger gains a magic device called a Whisper Jar. This is a recording device. It records an unlimited amount of spoken words and you can playback anything you want. This is going to be tough to adjudicate at the table and I think is going to be vulnerable to asshole players. Your character’s recording device has perfect recall and infinite space…so you the player better write down or remember everything perfectly. Player and DM both need to cut each other some slack here. The DM respects that the player has a device that says they can record things, the player respects that it’s not the DM’s job to do all of this perfect recall for them.
Rank 2 grants the Loremonger the ability to, as an Investigation Check, use something very similar to the Battlemaster Fighter’s Know Your Enemy feature or the Mastermind Rogue’s Insightful Manipulator feature. You can also use the Whisper Jar to gain information on any one subject.
The Rank 3 Loremonger reduces the Franchise upkeep cost by 20% per month and the Franchise HQ gains a “secret feature”. They also can use their Whisper Jar as a Wand of Enemy Detection once per day.
At Rank 4, the Loremonger grants the Franchise HQ a weapons feature above and beyond normal. They also can cast one spell from a short list of divination spells once per day. These are all low level spells, 1st or MAYBE second.
The Obviator is the role that caught my eye as maybe being the best fit for my Rogue Mastermind, Tando Tossbottle. Of the 8 roles, only the Documancer so far does not have a strong D&D like position in an adventuring party. What I mean by that is the Cartographer, Decisionist, Hordesperson, and Loremonger are all tasked with doing things someone at your D&D table is likely already doing. The Documancer is…not really doing something that happens in D&D. It’s funny to have someone sweating the paperwork of adventuring but this isn’t a thing in more vanilla D&D. It’s kind of like, if the Loremonger is recording the STORY of your adventuring party the Documancer is handling the BUSINESS side of your party. What’s in the Quest Journal and what is the letter of those quests? What debts and credits are owed? Obviator is kind of that same not really a Classic D&D Role. An Obviator’s job in the company/party is to solve problems. From the description, they are basically a professional Munchkin. This kind of sounds like Tando’s personality but it’s not really my playstyle so maybe not this role.
At Rank 1, the Obviator adds their proficiency bonus to checks to make sense of enemy tactics, discern hidden threats, or intimidate foes whose weaknesses you’ve already assessed. I’m trying to think if there is anytime “discern hidden threat” would not overlap with Perception, Insight, or Investigation skills.
Also at Rank 1 the Obviator gains proficiency with Alchemist’s Tools…I don’t really see the connection there. More relevant to the description, at Rank 1 the Obviator can make a Wisdom (Insight) check to learn three details about a creature. Like the Loremonger, this is a baby version of similar Battlemaster and Mastermind class featues.
At Rank 2 the Obviator doubles down on those weird alchemy tools. You can use your kit to identify an unknown substance once per day. I’m wondering if this was supposed to be the poisoner’s kit, but the designers felt the alchemy tools were broader. Poison is pretty specific. I think the idea here is that an Obviator has an analytical mind and is thus interested in analytical pursuits like alchemy.
In addition, the Rank 2 Obviator gains a pair of magical lens/spectacles which function as Eyes of Minute Seeing or Eyes of the Eagle. One gives advantage to Investigation, the other Perception where those skills relate to sight. This is very good and it is permanent. These don’t last one minute, they last until you change them. This is one of the most powerful features so far.
The Rank 3 Obviator gets an extremely vague yet potentially very powerful ability to “ask yourself one question, then make a DC 15 Intelligence (History) check. On success, you recall info you could have uncovered through earlier research about your mission.” They also gain proficiency with that poisoner’s kit I thought made sense at level 1. Now at level 11 and everyone’s immune to poison so this is a good time to give it to you. This is also a travel kit andyou never need to draw it I guess saving you an action? And it’s hard to find it on you if searched.
Ahh the infamous Rank 4. Your Spectacles are now both Eyes of the Eagle and Minute Seeing. And you can gain advantage on a weapon attack roll once per day. The specificity is a bit odd but it is mechanically the strongest thing so far. Last thing, if you fail on your baby Battlemaster/Mastermind check you still gain one detail and you can use it more than once against a single creature.
The Obviator is a practical and powerful job. Would play definitely.
If the Obviator is a professional munchkin, the Occultant is the job I recommended to my friendly neighborhood power gamer. This role’s responsibility is to track the party’s kills. At Rank 1, you gain your proficiency to intimidation but only against those close to death, although isn’t that anyone in contact with an adventuring party? You can also add it to checks to determine fatal diseases or poisons which would traditionally be Medicine checks. Also like the Obviator, the Occultant gains proficiency in a grab bag of potential tools. Choose between Cook’s Utensils, Leatherworker Tools, or Weaver Tools. Like I said, grab bag. Is that they use materials from dead things?
Also at Rank 1 you gain a kind of Bardic Inspiration. You can grant someone who dealt a fatal blow 1d10 to spend on an Attack Roll, Ability Check, or Saving Throw. This is once per day and it takes one minute to do so you can’t do it in combat.
At Rank 2, like the Bard, your Inspiration now recharges on a Short Rest. Once per day, you can also cast Augury when near a creature recently killed.
Rank 3 Occultants can, as a reaction, impose advantage or disadvantage to a creature’s attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. It doesn’t say this is once per day, just that it uses a bead from your “Occultant Abacus” and the art of this tool has 22 beads. For this to be balanced it would have to be once per day.
You can also make an Insight check to determine if a wounded creature’s death would impact you and the franchise positively, negatively, or have a neutral outcome. One thing I don’t understand here, it says “If the ramifications are different for you and the franchise, you learn this as well.”
Rank 4 Occultants can use their Abacus bead to know beforehand if someone has to make a roll with disadvantage. Then you can use your reaction to give your d10 to a DIFFERENT creature, not the one with disadvantage and this time the d10 lasts one minute. It says that the bead reappears at dawn but it still doesn’t say you can only use this once per day. Daily use would be the obvious limit though.
Last thing Occultants get is another succeed weekly/fail daily mechanic. You can make an Intelligence (Religion) check to learn relevant information about how a creature’s death affects the world.
The Final Job that a PC can get in Acquisitions Incorporated, the Secretarian. These are your social butterflies. They know what the office gossip is and are always branding. It’s kind of like if the Decisionist manages the party at HQ, the Secretarian manages everyone else. At rank 1 they gain proficiency in a gaming set, musical instrument, or the most mechanical option, disguise kit. They can add their proficiency to checks to persuade crowds, hirelings, or perform jingles.
They also gain a Sending Stone. Unlike the one in the DMG which has a paired stone and the two can just talk to each other, these can talk to head office, other secretarians you know, and the secretarian nearest to you. You can use the stone once per day. This kind of steps on the Documancer’s toes.
At Rank 2 the Secretarian gains a leather pouch. When the PC meets someone their details and a sketch are stored on a small card in the pouch. You can instantly find any card. This kind of steps on the Loremonger’s toes of having a perfect record although this is only for NPCs. Also at Rank two when you start a quest or mission you can make a History check and learn three rumors handy. This is the kind of thing where player and DM need to cut each other slack. Any mechanic that requires the DM to improv something fast. Ideally, you know this mechanic exists so you keep rumors handy.
At Rank 3 you get a sense which parts of those rumors are false. You can now give out business cards that can be used as sending stones to contact the Secretarian but to contact you. These last a week and you can give out five at a time. Once a week, the Secretarian can cast sending back to a card. It doesn’t specify if this is once per card or once total, I think it would be total.
Finally, the Rank 4 Secretarian can make a Persuasion check to immediately locate an NPC that you need a service from. I think the intent is that these are the services listed in the PHB. Really finally, you can cast Charm Person on someone you give a business card. It’s also another 1st level spell on a 17th level character. This kind of steps on the Decisionist’s toes.
Coming off the Obviator and Occultant, the Secretarian is much weaker.
Overall I like these jobs. More than the mechanics I like the idea of them. Take the Cartographer for example. At the table I’ve been with the last year, one player always takes it on themselves to map out the dungeons. It would be nice to give another player a mechanical reason to do that or give this player a benefit to doing so. I also like the specialization. The Cartographer, with its ability to psychically determine the natural terrain within miles, is not going to get to use these abilities in an urban adventure. I keep picking on the Cartographer because it’s the first job. I like idea of giving people jobs inside the party that correspond to jobs Players take on themselves. It’s the Decisionist’s job to be the party leader/facilitator. The Loremonger’s job is to write everything down. The Hordesperson tracks the tiny loose change and random gear you manage to find. These are classic D&D jobs within the context of a party. The Documancer, Oblivator, Occultant, and Secretarian are less rooted in party job archetypes, I think.
The mechanics are wonky as hell. While the trend is towards ribbon abilities the Obviator and especially the Occultant have strong combat abilities. The others are more geared towards the Social and Exploration pillars. The Decisionist seems to be the most ribbony of all with one strong combat mechanic. The Cartographer is entirely geared towards exploration and specifically overland exploration, not in a dungeon. The Documancer seems the least D&D thing and doesn’t really have a strong fit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Walnut Dankgrass and all she does but I can’t really see someone else, someone at my table playing that role without a heavy investment in running an Acq Inc game.
All of the roles gain proficiency in some use of a skill that probably overlaps with something you already took. If the Role gives you proficiency in specific type of Persuasion but you already took the Persuasion skill, are you making the Role weaker?
Having said all this, so far I’m a fan of the book and would like to run a game for these rules. I do think this book is going to sell better than perhaps it would otherwise because of 5E’s anemic release schedule of only a few books a year. Although maybe not with 2019 getting way more adventures than usual.
Part 2 – Downtime and The Adventure
There’s still more than half the book left after these roles. There’s a section on playing Acquisition Incorporated versions of every class. This is mostly played for comedy. There are some tables for every class, again, comedic. I look with pride on how the Mastermind Rogue is called out as the perfect Acq Inc class, probably because it’s comically underpowered.
More important is the section on Downtime. These are meant to supplement the Downtime activities in the DMG and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Confession time, I don’t think I’ve ever used the Formal Downtime rules in 5E. And if you watch the 3-4 Acquisitions Incorporated games throughout the year at PAX they don’t have time to engage in downtime. I’m not sure I would run these in the fashion of the DMG, having never seen that style modeled in a streamed game. It doesn’t really jive with how we conceive of running an adventure. Players don’t usually say, “We’re going Carousing for a week.” You play out these scenes, maybe the DM rolls the result in advance and throws that complication at the players. For less dramatic stuff like making an item you just do it when you go home.
This is one of the things that messed us up in Dragon Heist. No one wanted to roll on the “Running the Business” table in part because it was a heavy cost for an uncertain reward but also because we were fuckin’ busy. We were playing the adventure. In practice, Running the Business is completely abstract. You roll on the table for an amount of time, you have a certain result that says the business made or lost money. We as players however, conceive that we need to be at the Tavern, working, making improvements, reaching out to vendors, and we just didn’t have the time. We didn’t, but we still could’ve rolled on the abstract chart but that’s not how we picture D&D working. We picture our characters, in real time, doing stuff. And if we spend a day at the tavern then we want to roll on the table but then we run into the AL rules.
Nowadays when I write up my notes for an adventure I stick to the format Mike Shea of Sly Flourish uses, the Lazy DM format. I was doing my own version of this for years but his is a bit more organized and useful. But it conceives of the adventure through potential scenes and secrets and fantastic locations to explore. The goal of the format is to make sure you have enough to get through the session and keep the players engaged. I think the Lazy DM philosophy towards downtime would say, “Great!” Because Downtime really needs to be player directed. You can’t put players on Downtime. What if they want to keep adventuring?
With Downtime, my opinion here is that the 5E rules seem to indicate that there’s daylight between Adventuring and Downtime. This is false. It’s all D&D, it’s all character, it’s all adventure. Some sessions you go investigate the shady noble and some sessions you improve your tavern. The question is, “What do the players want to do?” If the players don’t want to improve their tavern or their franchise HQ they’re voting with their dice. This is one thing I like about Acquisitions Incorporated as an idea. The players do need to buy in to the idea of joining Acquisitions Incorporated. Volo is not just giving them a franchise they might not care about. If no one wants to join Acquisitions Incorporated then great, set this book aside and don’t use it.
Over half the book is given over to an adventure, Orrery of the Wanderer. I would like to run this adventure and as potential players read this blog I don’t want to get too in depth with it. But overall I like it. I especially like that it includes places from previous adventures that your players likely played. You go back to Phandalin, five years now after Lost Mine of Phandelver. That’s cool! The adventure takes you to Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Luskan, and even the Horn Enclave which was featured in one of the Acq Inc Youtube games. One item that caught my eye, in this adventure, the middle class district of Neverwinter is named Black Lake. This is what it was named in 4E. In the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide the district is named Bluelake. I wondered at the time if this was a typo, obviously it was. Also Binwin featured heavily in the Horn Enclave adventure and the adventure mentions his actions without actually mentioning him.
The adventure models the rules in this book. It doesn’t just give you a franchise, it gives you multiple suggestions for where to base that franchise. It doesn’t give you hirelings but it does suggest which NPCs would make good hires. It’s got plenty of magic items especially compared to the more stingy Dragon Heist and Mad Mage adventures. Each chapter ends with giving your PCs some downtime rather than ending on a cliffhanger where the PCs feel the need to get right to the next chapter. One chapter in particular is depending on the PCs to take that downtime to figure out where to go next.
There are a few hiccups. In the true Jerry Holkins style, it gets a bit hard to follow as you turn into the conclusion. Artifacts are being combined, portals are being opened, monsters are getting changed on the fly. The ending acts sound complicated, doubtless they make more sense when you actually prep them to play. As in many 1st level adventures, that section goes too long and there’s too much combat. There is an encounter with giant rats which I feel obligated to roll my eyes at but it serves a real purpose in foreshadowing a trap later.
All in I really like this adventure and this book. If your PCs like Acquisitions Incorporated they’ll be into this. If your group has zero interest in Acquisitions Incorporated you could safely give this one a pass. If they don’t know Acq Inc but they’ve been playing 5E, they will be into this for the numerous callbacks. I would be happy to run this adventure for a couple months until Avernus starts. Ain’t gonna be no downtime or franchises in Avernus.